Tapes of Gulf Air flight show no hint of a problem

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The Independent Online

The pilot of Gulf Air flight GF072 reported no technical problems and spoke calmly as he made several attempts to land before his Airbus A320 plunged into the sea off Bahrain on Wednesday, Hamad Ali, the chief pilot for Gulf Air's A320 fleet, said yesterday.

The pilot of Gulf Air flight GF072 reported no technical problems and spoke calmly as he made several attempts to land before his Airbus A320 plunged into the sea off Bahrain on Wednesday, Hamad Ali, the chief pilot for Gulf Air's A320 fleet, said yesterday.

As grieving relatives prepared to bury their dead, international investigators, including experts from Britain and the US, arrived to look into the mystery of why the plane crashed, killing all 143 people on board.

Mr Ali said that the pilot had been cleared to land when he was seven nautical miles from the runway. "All indications at this time appeared to be normal." The pilot continued the descent until one nautical mile when he requested a go-around. The reasons for this are not known.

After circling as he had requested, he started his approach again, but, approximately one nautical mile from touchdown, the plane disappeared from the radar. Until then, the whole communication with the control tower was normal, including the pilot's tone of voice.

"I listened to the recorded conversation between the control tower and the pilot," Mr Ali said. "There was nothing indicating that the pilot was under stress. His voice and his performance were very natural."

The pilot, aged 38, had joined Gulf Air in 1979, and had logged a total of 6,856 flying hours, he said. A pilot averaged 600 to 700 flying hours a year.

Several of the families of the victims attended Mr Ali's news conference, but some were escorted out when they started crying. Two days after the crash, the families are going deeper into shock, psychologists and trauma doctors said.

Gulf Air's Chief Executive, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saif al-Nahayan, said: "US investigators are arriving tonight and we expect the investigation to start immediately."

The US team will join experts from Bahrain, Oman and Airbus Industrie, maker of the twin-jet A320. The Gulf News Agency said two experts from Britain had also arrived on Thursday.

Sheikh Ahmed said the plane's black boxes, recovered from the shallow waters off Bahrain, had not been opened yet and will be sent on to the US or Europe.

Gulf Air said it ha no evidence that an engine of the Airbus, powered by two CFM56-5 engines built by General Electric and France's state-owned Snecma, had caught fire, as reported by witnesses in Bahrain.

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